Having facilitated millions (maybe not millions, but a LOT) of Therapeutic Creative Expression workshops I know that creative expression — in all its many forms – is stress reducing and a tool for healing. There is compelling cutting-edge research, that the arts have positive effects on mental health which supports my experience and observations.
This is a new field of study called neuroesthetics, which uses brain imaging and biofeedback to learn about the brain on art. Scientists are learning about how art lifts our moods and captures our minds.
Scientists also found that creating art decreases levels of cortisol and can create a positive mental state.
Evidence from biological, cognitive and neurological studies show visual art boosts wellness and the ability to adapt to stress.
1. Art promotes well-being through Mindfullness
MINDFULNESS AND FLOW — The arts have been found to be effective tools for mindfulness (a trending practice in schools that is effective for managing mental health).
Neuroesthetic findings suggest this is not an experience exclusive to artists: it is simply untapped by those who do not practice in the arts.
There is a wealth of studies on the relationship between the arts, flow, and mental health, and flow-like states have been connected to mindfulness, attention, creativity, and even improve cognition.
THREE TIPS FOR ARTS-BASED MINDFULNESS
1. Make mistakes – Experiment
The first rule of all my Creative Expression workshops is:
THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG
Try something new and be willing to make mistakes to learn. Most professional artists practice for years and admit to making lots of pictures they don’t like before one they are satisfied with. Those we now consider “masters” destroy pieces of their art – we only see what they felt was successful.
Our “feel-good” brain neurochemistry is activated when we try to learn new things.
2. Reuse and repeat – Practice & Process over Product
Play and experiment with reusable materials:
- Dry-erase markers on windows that can be easily wiped away.
- Sculpting material, like play dough that can be squished and reshaped.
- Etch-a-Sketch, Buddha Boards
- Crayons and coloring books
- Scribble on cardboard
When your goal is to experiment you emphasize practice and process over product and take the pressure off to make something that looks good. If you want to keep a copy, snap a photo of the work, then let it go.
3. Silence Part of Your Brain
Don’t talk when you are making art, and if you are listening to music, choose something without lyrics. The parts of the brain activated during visual art are different than those activated for speech generation and language processing. Give those overworked parts of the mind a break, and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from doing so.